Oh, Just Pretend I Have A Penis And Let's Get To Work

Two young female executives having a friendly discussion over coffee
Two young female executives having a friendly discussion over coffee

This week, a fantastic article appeared on Forbes.com calling out Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, for suggesting that the reason women aren't hired to direct tentpole movies is that they don't have enough experience. The truth is, it's because they don't have... a tentpole.

Thankfully the piece was written by a man so (a) it can be taken seriously by Hollywood, and (b) it won't be dismissed as simply one more feminist whiner trying to explain why she can't get a job. There were several great points from the piece, the biggest truth being: "Men are offered the presumption of competence regardless of experience. Women are considered a risk regardless of experience."

I was a screenwriter for nearly a decade and saw this happen repeatedly. Despite the fact that the script that launched my career was a darkly funny, political thriller, I was almost always called in to meet on the latest female-in-jeopardy twaddle. When 22 writers pitched for the job adapting the best-selling legal thriller, Justice Deferred, the producers liked my take the best, but when they brought it to Warner Bros., I'm told the executive on the movie said, "There are no women in the book, so we don't need a female writer." Because clearly I'm only qualified to write female characters. By the way, I was the only one of the 22 writers who was also a lawyer, so apparently, to write a legal thriller for Warner Bros., it's more important to have a penis than to have a law degree. The film never got made.

When I pivoted into writing books, speaking and corporate training, life got much easier. No one questions my competence based on my gender, although I can't help but notice I am often the only female speaker on a panel or giving one of the keynotes, unless of course it's a "vagina" panel -- one where conference organizers address their lack of diversity in all other rooms by having a "Women in..." session. Sigh.

Then, earlier this year, I had a brilliant (yes, I said it...) idea for a bot and went back to my prior life of tech start-ups, seed funding, and Silicon Valley-esque meetings, conferences and pitch sessions.

And there it was. That same old unquantifiable. The sense you get in a room when the response is just palpably different to the women founders than to the men. When men are asked questions about their growth strategy and planned exit and women are grilled on whether or not they can actually build what they're pitching. No one engaged in it would see that that's what they're doing, and would resoundingly deny it, but it's there.

Don't believe me? Just watch Shark Tank, where it's often presumed that Lori and Barbara should be investing in the women-owned businesses, as if the founders aren't worthy of male investors but their "sisters" will throw 'em a bone. Where male-launched companies with exceedingly riskier propositions or far less proof-of-concept are given a chance when their female counterparts are told they are "too soon," "not experienced enough," or in a space the shark "knows nothing about." Kevin O'Leary boasts that he gets the best returns from his female-run companies, but he fails to take into account that that's not only because they work so much harder and take less risk, but also that he pounded them into the ground on valuation or some egregious royalty deal at a time when none of the others were even making an offer. Of course he's going to get higher returns.

Women start businesses at twice the rate that men do, and yet there is still a $7 billion funding gap between male-launched and female-launched start-ups, with even greater disparities in the tech space.

So of course, I did the logical thing as a woman and launched a tech start-up.
And here's how I solved that pesky tentpole problem:

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Valerie Alexander is the CEO of Goalkeeper Media, builder of communication bots to amplify happiness. She is a keynote speaker and corporate trainer, and a former securities lawyer, investment banker and Internet executive. Her many books on Happiness, Success, and Success for Women can be found on Amazon.com, and if you're reading this in time, she really wants you to back her Kickstarter campaign.